FRISCO - Autumn feasts, an ancient tradition, are meant to celebrate bountiful harvests with family and friends. And the High Country Conservation Center, in keeping with historic ritual, is putting on a harvest dinner Tuesday at Vinny's in Frisco to celebrate the arrival of autumn, local farmers and Mother Earth. There are four seating times for the dinner - 6 p.m., 6:30, 7 and 7:30 - and reservations are required to attend."Harvest festivals and feasts have long histories all over the world and various religions too," said High Country Conservation feast coordinator Jen Santry. "Traditionally, celebrations of the harvest season happened around the fall equinox, so we chose September 22 - this year's fall equinox - for this celebration. I think many of us long for a deeper connection to our food and natural, seasonal cycles."Santry also noted that harvest festivals traditionally brought the whole village or community together to celebrate food production and the land - "In our modern times, we forget how important and often fragile our food systems are," she said. "By acknowledging harvest season and showcasing our home-grown, Colorado foods, I think it helps bring that connection back to us."
Because the High Country Conservation Center offers food-production classes, its staff said they noticed a strong local interest in food issues - from growing vegetables to canning and preserving to cheese making and home brewing. "With the resurgence of interest in food-production issues, it seemed like a perfect time to highlight 'harvest season' in Summit County and really test if we could produce a gourmet, four-course meal with food produced locally and in season," Santry said.According to High Country Conservation Center director Carly Wier, she and Santry had a goal to collect the celebration's food from within 200 miles of Summit County. They said they found most of the food from farmers who attended the Dillon Farmers Market every Friday this summer. Produce is coming from Grant Farms and CSA in Wellington, and goat cheese is being delivered from Jumpin' Good Goat Dairy in Buena Vista. The grass-fed beef is coming from High Plains Ranch in Jefferson."We chose to work with Vinny's restaurant and chef Vinny Monarca because of his experience in cooking with fresh, seasonal produce and creating healthy dishes," Santry said.Both Wier and Santry additionally said putting a harvest feast menu together was a challenge."We really didn't know the ingredients we'd have until about 10 days before the harvest dinner because what's available from the farm depends on bigger systems of weather and production." They also said they were amazed by the types of food available to them - like heirloom tomatoes to Yukon potatoes, peas, peaches and squash. "A harvest celebration like this is important for Summit County because a lot of people have a misconception that we don't have access to local foods ... since we're in such a high mountain environment and that eating locally is nearly impossible," Santry said. "But, as we found out, that notion is really false. We have abundant options, from cattle ranches to orchards to large organic farms within 200 miles of Summit County."All of the food was donated by local farmers and ranchers, and feast proceeds - except drink purchases - will go to the High Country Conservation Center. Farmers will also be at the dinner to talk about food efforts and Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs).For more information about the autumn feast or to reserve a seat, call (970) 668-5703.Caitlin Row can be reached at (970) 668-4633 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.